Letters from New Zealand 1857-1911
8th July, 1879
My first years here have been full of encouragement. It was evident at once that a considerable venture of faith had to be made, to provide sites for parsonage, schoolroom, and for better church accommodation. The Vestry, aided by leading business men, decided on the purchase of a suitable site for a building to be used as a temporary church, during the erection of a new church on the present site, and afterwards as a schoolroom and parish hall. Liberal subscriptions were forthcoming, but not sufficient, without borrowing a considerable sum. It may seem rash to incur debt, but in a young community like this, with all its life before it, prudence yields to an optimistic forecast of the future, and I feel sure that I am doing right in encouraging the enthusiasm of the moment, which is very strong. So we have arranged for a spacious temporary church of wood on concrete foundations; a parsonage house of brick on the same site, and further, a plan is being considered for the new church, of which I will tell you in a future letter. Moreover, we find that parishioners are willing to lend money on debentures issued by the Vestry for a term of years, and we see our way to meet the interest thereon.
Meanwhile an event has occurred which has given me much anxious thought. The Bishopric of Waiapu has fallen vacant through the death of Bishop Williams, one of the pioneer missionaries who did such splendid work amongst the Maories previous to the arrival of Bishop Selwyn. The Diocesan Synod of Waiapu have met and unanimously nominated me to the vacant See. I must tell you of the difficulty of my position. The nomination is made with every ex-page 197pression of regard and confidence, laying stress on the fact that there have been serious troubles in the diocese which, in the opinion of Synod, I am better qualified to deal with than any other person they know. They earnestly press my acceptance of the See. But, on the other hand, there are grave considerations which I cannot ignore. There is no endowment of the Bishopric; the late Bishop was a man of private means; there is no house, and further, by far the larger proportion of the population is Maori. I have next to no private means, my knowledge of the Maori language, in which the late Bishop was proficient, is merely superficial, and would greatly handicap me in the oversight of what is chiefly a Maori Diocese; and, to accept such a position, without income or house, on the chance of both being forthcoming, is a venture of faith I am honestly afraid of making. In addition to this, my present obligation to the Diocese of Christchurch, and the work in Timaru so recently begun, seem to me a responsibility not to be lightly laid aside. It was no easy matter to come to a decision, nor was it made easier, after I had declined the offer, by a further communication from Waiapu asking me to reconsider it; but, all things considered, I have felt it right to adhere to my refusal of the See.
Since writing, I have again visited Westland, which remains part of my Archdeaconry; a three days' journey from Timaru, which I did in fine weather, but with an awkward adventure in the Waimakariri river. In Spring and early Summer rivers here are liable to floods fed by snow and glacier, which melt rapidly in Nor'westerly weather. On the second coaching day we were obliged to halt at the junction page 198of the Waimakariri and the Bealey, where the riverbed is very wide and rough, often merely intersected with a network of streams of moderate depth, but on this occasion one sheet of rushing water. There is a small hotel there, where we spent the night, hoping that in the morning the river might have fallen enough to allow us to ford it. Against the advice of the old hands of the place, in the morning, the driver attempted it. I was on the box with him, and a groom, who confided to me that "he had come to lend a hand, as he was sure we should make bad weather of it." He was right; the coach stuck fast against a boulder midstream, the water rose nearly to the backs of the horses; one of them fell, and the whole team would have been drowned, had not the groom managed to get down on to the pole, unhook the traces, and set them loose. They drifted down stream, and landed safely. Meanwhile we were left, the water running through the open sides of the coach, drenching the few inside passengers, and rising nearly to our knees on the box. Rescue was at hand; the mounted constable, who is stationed at the Bealey, rode his powerful horse into the stream, and backing to the coach, shouted, "Jump on behind me, and hold fast," The water was rushing over the saddle; I took the first jump from the box, and, gripping him by the waist, was convoyed ashore, followed by the others, fortunately only two men, the coach being left like a wreck at sea. The river fell that afternoon, the coach was extricated, and, after an evening spent in drying baggage, we proceeded on our journey next day.
Approaching Hokitika, at Arahura, I saw in the distance a number of boys on either side of the road. "They are your boys, Archdeacon," said the driver,page 199
"with a wagonette and pair to drive you home again." To our great amusement, one of the passengers, an American tourist, said, "So you're returning home, and those are your boys, sir; I congratulate you, sir, a very fine family!" They drove me through the main streets of the town, with much cheering, and amongst a number of my old parishioners who had assembled to welcome me. I spent three weeks in Westland, visiting every centre, preaching, lecturing, and renewing old acquaintance; but I imagine an Archdeacon's visitation here is very different to anything of the sort at home, certainly in one matter; there are no visitation charges, either in word or coin.
Fresh gold has been discovered at Kumara, further inland than hitherto, not far from the road to Christchurch, and there is a considerable rush of miners to the place. We shall need an additional clergyman, making in all a staff of three on the Coast; on my return through Christchurch, I saw the Bishop, and arrangements will soon be made to supply a suitable man.